Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Novel in Pieces

I’ve been hanging out in revision mode and making slow yet steady progress. I’ve focused on the first 100 pages and have tightened up the plot. The beginning needed the most work, plot wise. The middle and end are okay, but I know there are a few specific spots where I need to weave in my higher-stakes plot just right to make the story sing all the way to the end.

But looking at 85,000 words, how could I find those problem spots? And find them efficiently. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of all my scenes. So the other day I assigned each scene a status regarding plot: fine, needs a few tweaks, or in deep trouble. The only other detail I will tell you about this spreadsheet (and therefore about me) is that it is color-coded on three different variables.

So now there were colors and labels and I knew there were spots that needed more work than others. Yet looking at my colorful contraption, I got overwhelmed. I’ve been going over and over the book so much I’ve started to feel like I’m not making as much progress. I needed to stir things up.

I learned long ago that when a task feels unmanageable, breaking it up into smaller pieces and focusing on one at a time really works for me. The task of “clean house top to bottom before entire family comes over for a party” sounds daunting. But what about “vacuum the living room?” Heck, I can handle that. “Clean the second bathroom?” Easy as pie.

Well the same thing works with novels, because a novel is just a bunch of little chapters. I seemed to forget this part. When I started revising and moved scenes around drastically, I kicked chapter numbers to the curb. I didn’t know what was going to end up where and labeled (alphanumerically) my scenes. Yes, each and every individual scene -- right now, there are 94 of them.

Now that everything is in the right place – story starts where the trouble starts, a nice reversal about halfway through – I felt like I could chunk the scenes back into chapters. And you know what? Seeing those chapter numbers (each set of scenes with their own individual border in the spreadsheet, of course) really made it manageable.

And of all those scenes, I identified eight chapters where I need to tinker with the plot. In some spots, it's just one scene that needs a fix. In others the whole chapter needs a good talking to. Before, I thought I was up against a whole novel. But now it's just eight chapters. I can handle eight chapters.

So take that, big bad scary novel. You’re just a bunch of little ole chapters after all.


  1. Your process is fascinating. Good luck wrangling those eight chapters into shape.

  2. Thanks Linda, although I don't know that I'd call it fascinating. Weird, maybe. But hey, spreadsheets and to do lists helped me through my corporate jobs, so figure it's worth a shot at this job too.